En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part Three)

Remember that old adage for retailers, “The customer is always right?” Well, for novelists seeking the perfect title, that should be “The audience is always right.”

Tip #4: Remember Your Audience! Novelists do a great job, on the whole, of keeping their audience in mind as they write. But sometimes when trying to come up with a catchy title or cover image, they go a bit far afield of that audience. The result is that readers who would love the story won’t even pick it up. And those who do pick it up may not find what they expected inside. So as you work on your title, remember who your reader is. For example:

  •  Age range. If your book would appeal mostly to Christian women in their 40s and up, then don’t use a trendy title that will appeal to the twenty-somethings. And watch out for technology phrases. Unless your certain your core audience is familiar with both the meaning and use of something technologial, steer clear. For example, using RAM, bits, bytes, and bauds as words in your title may work for a younger audience, or one that’s technologically savvy, but for older readers? Odds are good you’d lose ’em. (Or have them writing you letters scolding you for misspelling bites.)
  • Region. If your book is set in a particular region, are there phrases or even familiar sayings you can adapt to a title? Or, as we discussed in the character tip, are there landmarks that will position your story in a readers’ mind? In the Northwest, using words such as Cascade, Siskiyou, Sun Valley, and Snohomish create an immediate image in our minds. For example, the publishing house I work for, B&H Publishing Group, is based in Nashville. Can you guess the phrase that I hear ALL the time…and now say on a regular basis? Yup: Bless yer heart!
  • Education levels. This has nothing to do with your readers’ intelligence, but more with the fact that what appeals to those who’ve gone through advanced levels of education often is different than what appeals to those who finished their formal education in high school. And studies have shown that reading tastes of those with different educational backgrounds often differ as well.
  • Married and family status. Are your readers married? Single? Do they have kids or not? Are you readers of an age where their children are toddlers, teens, college-bound, etc? All of these factors come into play with what appeals. For example, I’ve been married almost 30 years, but my hubby and I never had children. So while I’m drawn to titles focusing on love or relationships, I’m not inclined to pick up a book that, by its title, is aimed at either someone single or someone with children. Unless, of course, the children are in jeopardy! Then that moves it from relationship into suspense, and I love that!
  • Gender. Yes, it does make a difference! Not that women aren’t drawn to guy titles, or vice versa, but you do need to remember your core consumer and how the title will both sound and feel to them.
  •  Tastes in music. Song titles can be great book titles, or great springboards to a title. And every generation has universally known titles. Think about it: Leader of the Pack, Close to You, Great Balls of Fire, Hotel California, Billion Dollar Babies, If God Was One of Us, and so on. Also, consider hymns. There’s a wealth of beautiful imagery in hymn titles. (note: you can’t copyright a title, so no worries about copyright infringement. But to be aware of Trademarks. Trademarks cannot be used.)

Also, keep in mind what may be uppermost on your readers’ minds. What are they feeling, struggling with, fearing, anticipating? For example:

  •  Economics (is your audience made up of those who are most likely hit by the current economic issues such as job and retirement loss?)
  • Issues with children
  • marital struggles
  • struggles with organized church
  • faith crises
  • Emotions (for example, with all the job and retirement loss in the last year, fear is a huge factor for many people. Titles that offer hope and peace, or a respite from the struggles, would draw readers’ attention)

Remember, good titles–combined with good cover art–create an image or mood and garner a visceral response from the reader. It’s my hope these tools will provide you with some assistance in coming up with two or three good options to send to you publisher when the time comes to do so.

So have at it–and happy titling!






9 Responses to En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part Three)

  1. Avatar
    Rick Barry August 31, 2011 at 3:34 am #

    Karen, well bless yer heart from head to toe (my favorite mixed metaphor) for writing this series on titles. The hunt for that elusive, perfect title is a fun blog topic, but also so vital, whether for articles, short stories, or novels. Today’s readers have millions of other things that they could be doing. Stopping them dead in their tracks with an eye-grabbing title is key to making them want to read what we have written. Thanks!

  2. Avatar
    V.V. Denman August 31, 2011 at 3:53 am #

    Wow. I never thought about titles from this perspective. What was I thinking? Great information. Thanks.

  3. Avatar
    Lacie Nezbeth August 31, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    Hi Karen!

    I’m enjoying this series you’re doing on titles. This is an area that I struggle in. But I was under the impression that the publishing house gets to choose the title. So how important is it for an author to have their own options? How often does a House go with the author’s title vs. coming up with one on their own?

  4. Avatar
    Pat Jeanne Davis August 31, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    Your 3-part posts on finding a title are so helpful, Karen. So difficult finding one that will get a reader’s attention and also suitable to the story. Many thanks.

  5. Avatar
    Gina Welborn August 31, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    I agree with enjoying this series! Last night I was reviewing a book series that I’d like to pitch at conference (if God nudges me that it’s the right opportunity), and I realized titles for stories 2 and 3 captured each story’s essense. Only the one for book 1 . . . eh, not so much.

    Seems like I need to apply your advice and come up with something better.

  6. Avatar
    TC Avey August 31, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Thank you for the insight, it has given me more to think about.

  7. Avatar
    Gina Conroy August 31, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    I’ve been writing a titleless book. Nothing grabbed me until I needed to put a title on the proposal, then it just popped into my head, and I think it’s spot on with this article, BUT when I searched on amazon there’s already a book with that title and theme of my book. But it’s from an indy publisher and hasn’t sold many copies. Karen, what are your thoughts on using the title anyway?

  8. Avatar
    Becky Doughty August 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm #


    I’m so glad Steve posted today about titles and that he referred back to these three posts of yours! I have just finished my WIP and have 3 different titles and I’m really struggling to choose just the right one. Your posts have given me the courage to choose – yay!



  1. Say it in a Sentence - The Steve Laube Agency - July 24, 2016

    […] just about your title (which was ably covered by Karen Ball in a three part series here, here, and here) it is about your pitch. That 25 words or less soundbite that instantly conveys your […]

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